Three years ago, when my boys were ages 1 and 3, I made fun of my friend for buying her 11-year-old daughter a cell phone. “You’re kidding, right?” I asked, peering down my nose.
“It’s more for me than for her,” she claimed. “Believe me.”
Call me a cell phone snob, but I never envisioned myself shelling out a monthly fee so my kids could call me for a ride or converse with one friend while trolling the mall with another.
Then I read this article and learned that many cell phones have global positioning systems. They no longer just let us talk to our kids. For a fee, they let us track their exact location.
Since April, Sprint, Walt Disney Co. and Verizon Wireless have all launched cell phone tracking services. All three services let users locate their child’s cell phone via the parent’s phone or the Web.
With Sprint’s “Family Locator,” parents can also set up alerts, which automatically notify parents of their child’s whereabouts on scheduled days and times. For example, every afternoon at 3 pm, you could get a message letting you know that your daughter has arrived at home. Sprint charges $9.99 a month to put the service on up to four Sprint Nextel phones.
Disney Mobile, which launched this month, also offers “Family Monitor,” which lets parents set limits on family members’ wireless spending. Disney Mobile’s family plans range in cost from $59.99 to $249.99 per month, according to its Web site, and include five or more uses of its “Family Locator” service.
Verizon’s plan, “Chaperone,” offers two levels of service. Keeping track of your child through his cell phone costs $9.99 a month. For another $10 monthly, “Chaperone with Child Zone” lets parents create up to 10 specific “zones” (e.g., school, Billy’s house, the ball field). If the phone, and hence the child, should wander out of the zone, the device text messages the parent.
So my cell phone snobbery has been quelled by my burning desire to track my kids' every move. I can even see myself getting addicted, lecturing my son on his first day of college not to forget to keep his phone with him.
Now, if they could just figure out a way to prevent kids from stashing their phones at a friend's and going "off radar." I wonder how old Ben will be when he first turns his cell phone off just to lose me. If he's older than age 13, I'll count myself as lucky. But he'll still be in big trouble!
What do you think of these new family locator products? Will they help keep kids safe, or will they give a false sense of security? Do they help family's stay close, or do they infringe on kids' privacy?
Kris is a thirtysomething writer and stay-at-home mom who lives north of Boston with her family.